THE Yellows keep ranting that President Duterte hasn’t continued to quarrel with the superpower China to assert our sovereign rights in our exclusive economic zone — ignorant of, or rejecting the fact that not just China, but Vietnam and Taiwan are claiming not just rights but sovereignty over those areas our EEZ encompasses. Thus, as Duterte succinctly put it, “China is claiming it. We are claiming it.”
The hypocrisy — or ignorance, feigned or not — of former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario and their resource person former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, is obvious in the fact that while they have been livid, or pretended to be livid, over China’s alleged aggressiveness in the South China Sea, they have been inexplicably quiet in their hundreds of statements — even in Carpio’s book — over the brazen grab by Malaysia of Philippine territory.
And I’m not referring to Sabah.
Two presidents — Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada — could do nothing to stop the seizure of four reefs in our sovereign territory, the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and an island in our EEZ by Malaysia, which at that time was, so to speak, in our weight class.
In April 1986 Malaysian Navy Special Forces constructed a naval station “Lima” on Celerio Reef (Layang-layang to them, internationally Swallow Reef). While Celerio Reef is just outside our Kalayaan Island Group, which Ferdinand Marcos created out of the Spratlys as part of our Philippine territory in 1978, it is within our EEZ.
Malaysia in 1991 would consolidate its hold on Celerio Reef by building a five-star scuba diving resort complete with hotels and other tourist amenities. By 1995, more buildings were built, including two air-conditioned accommodation blocks, an aircraft landing strip, two hangars, a radar station, an air traffic control tower, watchtowers and a jetty. Called Layang-layang Resort, it is advertised worldwide as a top scuba-diving tourist resort.
The Malaysians’ brazenness in grabbing our territory was demonstrated when they took advantage of what they perceived was Corazon Aquino’s helplessness, and seized two reefs inside the KIG and established naval stations there: Antonio Luna (Ardasier) Reef in April 1986 and Mariveles Reef in November 1986.
The Malaysians have been the last to grab territories in the Spratlys. In April 1999, while President Estrada was undertaking peace talks with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was financially supported by Malaysia, the Malaysian Naval Special Forces units seized Gabriel Silang (Erica) Reef and Pawikan (Investigator) Shoal and established naval stations there.
Perhaps the internet is unable to access news reports two decades ago, but I cannot access any report that Aquino or Estrada protested the Malaysian incursions.
What makes Malaysia’s seizure of our territories is that its justification for this is the flimsiest among claimants in the Spratlys, as it claims that these are encompassed by the EEZ projected from Sabah — which is itself claimed by the Philippines — and did not belong to any other state.
Over two decades, Malaysia has gradually built up the five reefs into islands, as shown in satellite images accompanying this article. There is an airstrip and jetty port in Layang-layang, purportedly to bring in tourists, but which can land military planes.
What’s potentially very dangerous for us is this: Malaysia could declare 200-nautical mile EEZs from the features they occupy. As shown in accompanying illustration, EEZs generated from Malaysian-occupied Investigator Shoal, as well as Erica and Mariveles reefs would encompass three-fourths of our KIG.
Can it do that?
Yes. While the award handed down by the arbitration panel on the Philippine suit against China ruled that no feature in the Spratlys is entitled to an EEZ, the ruling binds only us.
China rejected the arbitratio on grounds that its accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was conditional in that no such arbitration involving its maritime claims can be undertaken. As an arbitration, the ruling doesn’t bind any other country.
And to think that the Aquino government spent nearly P1 billion in lawyers’ fees and other expenses for this suit filed against China, which only damaged our national interests.
Why have the Yellows been so quiet about Malaysia’s expansionism in the Spratlys?
Because their ranting against China isn’t about our national interests, but about helping the United States agenda to maintain its hegemony in Asia. The US doesn’t care about Malaysia’s flouting of international law, but delights in the demonization of its rival China as a territory-grabber; it wants Asia to unite against China, and seek to be put under American aegis.
On Wednesday: ‘The Yellows surrendered part of our EEZ to Malaysia’
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